Why the James Bond franchise could be complicated for Amazon after buying the MGM film studio

no time to die
Daniel Craig as James Bond in “No Time to Die”

  • Amazon said Wednesday that it would buy MGM, the film studio that releases the James Bond movies.
  • But producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson still have final say on the direction of the Bond franchise.
  • There won’t be a Prime Video Bond TV series without their approval.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon is expanding its film exploits.

The company announced on Wednesday that it would buy the MGM film studio, whose assets include the James Bond movies, for $8.45 billion. But the rights to the long-running franchise are more complicated than they might initially appear. MGM only owns half of Bond.

The other major players in the background of the Bond franchise are the half-siblings Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who oversee the franchise’s creative direction and own Eon Productions and its parent company Danjaq LLC.

Danjaq and MGM, which distributes the Bond movies domestically, co-own the copyright to the films. But Broccoli and Wilson are the ones with final say on the direction of the franchise. They inherited the series from Broccoli’s father, Albert Broccoli, who cofounded Eon in 1962.

In a rare interview in January 2020, Broccoli told Variety that her and Wilson were the “custodians of this character,” referring to Bond.

“We take that responsibility seriously,” she said.

Eon has produced 24 Bond movies, starting with 1962’s “Dr. No.” The 25th Bond entry, with star Daniel Craig in his final outing as the character, hits theaters in October after a long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic (it was originally scheduled for release in April 2020). Universal is handling international distribution.

Amazon’s purchase of MGM comes at a transitional period for the franchise with Craig exiting the role after 15 years and five movies.

The biggest Bond question after the MGM sale is whether Broccoli and Wilson would go along with an expansion of the Bond franchise outside of the main film series, such as a TV spinoff. As long as they’re the keepers of the franchise, it won’t be as easy as buying MGM for Amazon to capitalize on the prospects of that universe.

In other words, there won’t be a Prime Video Bond TV series unless Broccoli and Wilson want it, and they aren’t strangers to overruling ideas. The duo once nixed an idea for a “‘Smallville’-like television series that would have followed a teenage Bond at Eton,” according to Variety.

They haven’t entirely ruled out TV, though. Broccoli told Variety that they would be open to expanding the franchise to streaming.

“We make these films for the audiences,” Broccoli said. “We like to think that they’re going to be seen primarily on the big screen. But having said that, we have to look to the future. Our fans are the ones who dictate how they want to consume their entertainment. I don’t think we can rule anything out, because it’s the audience that will make those decisions. Not us.”

Amazon has placed a big TV bet on another established franchise, “The Lord of the Rings.” That will cost $465 million for just one season, including $250 million for the rights, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Perhaps Broccoli and Wilson would be more open to the idea of a prestige Bond series with a movie-level budget, if Amazon is willing to drop such a pretty penny.

Still, Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro, reiterated that much of Bond’s value comes from the shared theatrical experience.

Potential complications aside, the Bond franchise is a lucrative one, with $7 billion at the worldwide box office over the 24 Eon-produced films. 2012’s “Skyfall” was the first to make more than $1 billion globally and its followup, 2015’s “Spectre,” earned $880 million.

“As long as Amazon remains committed to the franchise’s roots and willing to work with its creative custodians to ensure that particular integrity remains at the series’ core, regardless of other storytelling branches the series might take, it should prove to be a highly lucrative relationship,” Robbins said.

He added that the relationship should evolve “as theatrical and streaming releases prove their ability to coexist.”

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